The Great Chaise Match, Newmarket, 1750 by James Seymour

The Great Chaise Match on Newmarket Heath, 29th August 1750

In the early summer of 1750, the Earl of March (later the 4th Duke of Queensberry and more commonly known as ‘Old Q’) and Alexander Montgomerie, 10th Earl of Eglinton made a wager with Theobald Taaffe, Esquire that a four-wheel carriage (or chariot/chaise), carrying a man, could run 19 miles on Newmarket Heath within an hour. The stakes were high, as the bet was for 1,000l.

The Earl of March and His 'Blossom' by William Shaw, 1754
The Earl of March and His ‘Blossom’ by William Shaw, 1754; Northampton Museums & Art Gallery

Theobald Taaffe was from an Irish Roman Catholic family. Having married a wealthy English heiress and through her gained rights in a Jamaican property and a house in Hanover Square he had a brief interest in politics before setting to in squandering his fortune in high living. During 1750, Taaffe was one of the boon companions of the Duke of Bedford and Lord Sandwich, who were spending their whole time that summer in ‘riot and gaming’. This perhaps gives some indication of the atmosphere in which the Newmarket wager was conceived.

In 1751, Horace Walpole wrote to his friend, Horace Mann describing Theobald Taaffe as:

an Irishman, who changed his religion to fight a duel, as … you know, in Ireland a Catholic may not wear a sword. He is the hero who having betted Mrs. Woffington five guineas on as many performances in one night, and demanding the money which he won, received the famous reply, double or quits. He is a gamester, usurer, adventurer, and of late has divided his attentions between the Duke of Newcastle and Madame de Pompadour, travelling with turtles and pineapples in post-chaises, to the latter, flying back to the former for Lewes races—and smuggling Burgundy at the same time.

William Douglas, Earl of March, was cut from much the same cloth as Taaffe; he too had a reputation as a dissolute gambler and a rake. He also had a keen interest in horses and horse racing and was so frequently seen on the turf at Newmarket that it was almost his second home.

The 4th Duke of Queensberry ('Old Q') as Earl of March by Joshua Reynolds, 1759
The 4th Duke of Queensberry (‘Old Q’) as Earl of March by Joshua Reynolds, 1759; The Wallace Collection

The match was to be run in August; it was supposed to take place in the middle of the month but was pushed back to the 29th. Lord March and Lord Eglinton commissioned a lightweight four-wheeled carriage from Mr Wright, a coachmaker in Long Acre, Covent Garden, to be built in haste. Long Acre was known for coachbuilding and Wright was one of the most noted, along with John Hatchett who also had premises on the street.

View of Mr Hatchett's Capital House in Long Acre, 1780.
View of Mr Hatchett’s Capital House in Long Acre, 1780.

The first prototype of the four-wheeled race carriage was not an unbridled success; in trials on the heath two horses were killed and one lamed. Another carriage was built and conveyed to Newmarket which proved much more successful.

It is a most surprising piece of mechanism, and ‘tis said it does not weigh much more than 100 weight.

(Newcastle Courant, 7th July 1750)

This second carriage was extremely light and almost skeletal, and not at all what Taafe had envisaged when he made his bet. The Earl of March was a canny and astute operator and never bet when he thought the odds were against him; he almost certainly had a carriage of his own design – moreover one pulled by trained horses – in mind when he agreed to the challenge.

Even so, in early July, the bets were three to two that they didn’t do it.

Alexander Montgomerie, 10th Earl of Eglington by Joshua Reynolds c.1766.
Alexander Montgomerie, 10th Earl of Eglington by Joshua Reynolds c.1766. Abe Bailey Collection

Eventually, the date was set, to great excitement. Despite the report below, it was actually run on 29th August 1750 which was a Wednesday.

The Four Wheel Carriage, so long talked of, will certainly be run on Newmarket Heath on Tuesday next, when it is expected there will be the greatest number of nobility, &c that has been for many years at that place.

(Derby Mercury, 24th August 1750)

The carriage had one of Lord March’s postilions seated in it and four horses to pull it. Just before seven o’clock in the morning, they were off, starting at the Six Mile House on the Newmarket racecourse.

The near fore horse was a brown one, named Tawney, late Greville’s; the off fore horse was a dark grey, named Roderick Random, late Tom Stanford’s; the near wheel horse was a chestnut, named Chance, late Duke Hamilton’s; and the off wheel horse a grey, named Little Dan, late Parson Thompson’s of Beverley.

The Chaise Match Run on Newmarket Heath on Wednesday the 29th of August, 1750 by James Seymour.
The Chaise Match Run on Newmarket Heath on Wednesday the 29th of August, 1750 by James Seymour. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Three boys were assigned seats on the horses while the fourth was ridden by William Erratt (also named as Everett), groom to a Mr Panton, all four of them wearing blue satin waistcoats, buckskin breeches, white silk stockings and black velvet caps. Another groom, dressed in crimson, rode in front to clear the way. The poor postilion, sitting precariously in the carriage, wore a white satin waistcoat, black velvet cap and red silk stockings (although in the picture above he appears to be dressed similarly to the riders).

Immense crowds had come to watch, the ‘greatest part of the Sporting Gentlemen in England present’ and betting had changed to five to three in favour of the 19 miles being covered in less than an hour.

Luckily for the Earls of March and Eglinton, everything ran to clockwork. The first four miles were run in just nine minutes and there was then little doubt in the minds of the spectators but that Lord March and Lord Eglinton would be victorious. In the end, the spectacle was completed in well under the allotted hour (the London Evening Post said in 53 minutes and 20 seconds, and the Whitehall Evening Post had the time at 54 minutes 30 seconds but both newspapers agreed that the carriage could actually have covered 20 miles in less than an hour).

The Great Chaise Match, Newmarket, 1750 by James Seymour
A slightly different version of the Great Chaise Match, Newmarket, 1750 by James Seymour; The National Trust for Scotland, Brodick Castle, Garden & Country Park

At least three of the horses, Tawney, Roderick Random (named after the eponymous hero of Tobias Smollett’s, The Adventures of Roderick Random which had been published two years earlier) and Little Dan were auctioned off at Newmarket a few weeks later. Perhaps Chance was the horse ridden by William Erratt/Everett, and described below as Evrat’s Horse?

On Thursday last the Chaise Horses were sold at Newmarket as follows:

  1. Tawney, for 110 guineas to Mr Horsley
  2. Roderick Random, for 90 guineas to Sir Thomas Sebright
  3. Little Dan, for 55 guineas to Mr Prance
  4. Surly, for 56 guineas to Mr Vernon
  5. Single Peeper, for 50 guineas to Lord Chedworth
  6. A Bay Horse, got by Fletcher’s Arabian, for 80 guineas to Mr Prance
  7. A Grey Horse, got by Dusty Miller, for 28 guineas to Sir William Beauchamp Proctor
  8. Evrat’s Horse, for 27 guineas to Mr Allen

(Derby Mercury, 12th October 1750)

Sources not mentioned above:

The Ipswich Journal, 9th June 1750 and 1st September 1750

Taaffe, Theobald (c.1708-80), of Hanover Sq., London, published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1970

Modern Exercise, one of twelve illustrations to Contemporary Life and Diversions by Robert Dighton.

Skittles and Nine Holes, or Bumble Puppy: sporting pastimes in the Georgian era

The nine pins used in the game of skittles were originally known as kayle pins, a term derived from the French word for bowling, quilles.

Miss Tipapin going for all nine, 1779.
Miss Tipapin going for all nine, 1779. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The kayle-pins were afterwards called kettle, or kittle-pins; and hence, by an easy corruption, skittle-pins, an appellation well known in the present day.

Gentlemen Playing Skittles, 1740; Balthasar Nebot
Gentlemen Playing Skittles, 1740; Balthasar Nebot; National Trust, Hartwell House

It is a game similar to bowling; the player stands at a predetermined distance and bowls a ball at the pins; the winner is the person who knocks them all down in the fewest throws. And, while you might have thought it quite a simple game, in 1786 a quite comprehensive list of rules and instructions were issued by a Society of Gentlemen.

Rules and instructions for playing at skittles. By a Society of Gentlemen, 1786.
Rules and instructions for playing at skittles. By a Society of Gentlemen, 1786. © The Trustees of the British Museum

During the eighteenth-century, and especially in and around London, skittles was a popular pastime, often played in the grounds of public houses and accompanied by gambling upon the outcome of the game. Although pictured here being played by gentlemen, the game was known as one which was notorious among the lower classes.

Modern Exercise, one of twelve illustrations to Contemporary Life and Diversions by Robert Dighton.
Modern Exercise, one of twelve illustrations to Contemporary Life and Diversions by Robert Dighton. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Lewdness, profaneness, Sabbath-breaking, and gaming, are by all good men, reckoned to be the cause of so much distress among the lower ranks of society. Of these vices none are more destructive to the poor families, than the Skittle and Nine-pin Alleys, Cards and other games at low Public houses.

(Kentish Gazette, 14th July 1784)

As if this wasn’t enough, with the skittle grounds a known haunt for ne’er-do-wells, they featured on the radar of the press gangs. Further distress must have been caused to families when their menfolk were taken up from skittle grounds and impressed into the armed or naval services, a practice which happened not infrequently as reports in the newspapers record.

Monday and Tuesday the Constables were very assiduous about Moorfields and the Publick Houses, especially about those that had skittle grounds, where they impressed several for the army and navy, by virtue of impress warrants delivered to them, and backed by the justices of the peace for that division. Several also, who were found gambling in the fields were laid hold of, as useful hands to serve his Majesty.

(Sussex Advertiser, 26th April 1762)

In the notorious Fleet Prison and also the King’s Bench Prison, where people were held for debt, they were afforded the opportunity to squander more of what they didn’t have by betting on the outcome of various games. Of course, skittles – and a similar game named bumble-puppy – were two of those. A writer claimed that:

Here racquets are played against the wall, – also cards, bumble-puppy and skittles.

(Bristol Mirror, 23rd November 1811)

View of the inner court of the Fleet Prison, with the prisoners playing rackets and skittles on the left, 1807.
View of the inner court of the Fleet Prison, with the prisoners playing rackets and skittles on the left, 1807. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Nine holes, otherwise bumble-puppy, was a childhood game; known to have been played in the early seventeenth-century, it met with a revival, particularly in London, in the late eighteenth-century. Around 1780, the magistrates caused the skittle grounds to be levelled in an attempt to stop the ‘lower orders’ playing the game in the gardens of London pubs, and losing whatever income they had on the outcome of the games. Into the breach stepped the game of nine-holes.

The game is simply this: nine holes are made in a square board, and disposed in three rows, three holes in each row, all of them at equal distances, about twelve or fourteen inches apart; to every hole is affixed a numeral, from one to nine, so placed as to form fifteen in every row. The board, thus prepared, is fixed horizontally upon the ground, and surrounded on three sides with a gentle acclivity. Every one of the players being furnished with a certain number of small metal balls, stands in his turn, by a mark made upon the ground, about five or six feet from the board; at which he bowls the balls; and according to the value of the figures belonging to the holes into which they roll, his game is reckoned; and he who obtains the highest number is the winner.

It is suggested that the game of nine holes was also known as ‘Bubble the Justice’ as it could not be banned by the magistrates because nine holes was not named in the prohibitory statutes. Another popular name for it was, however, bumble-puppy.

The game of Bumble Puppy or Bubbling, 1803.
The game of Bumble Puppy or Bubbling, 1803. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Justice: Hallo there, what game do you call that, I’ll have you all taken up for disturbing the Neighbourhood.

Player: No Sir you won’t – It’s Bumble Puppy an please your Worship

Justice: O’ Lounds, I’m smoked here I must be off.

By the early nineteenth-century, skittle alleys had once more become common-place in public houses, although no less notorious.

"The Poacher's Progress:" Poachers Scuffling with the Constables in the Skittle Ground; C. Blake, c.1825.
“The Poacher’s Progress:” Poachers Scuffling with the Constables in the Skittle Ground; C. Blake, c.1825. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Nine-pins, Dutch-pins and Four Corners (which we have blogged about before) are all variations of skittles which is now mainly played indoors, the practice still kept alive in several public houses which retain a skittles alley.

Sources not mentioned above:

Curiosities of London: exhibiting the most rare and remarkable objects of interest in the metropolis, John Timbes, 1855

Cricket played by the Gentleman's Club, Whiteconduit House by Robert Dighton, c.1784.

Cricket, Quoits and Fives: Sporting Prints of the 18th Century

In an earlier blog, we looked at the first three in a series of six prints by Robert Dighton, held in the Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, which illustrate a selection of the sports played during the latter half of the eighteenth-century, some now better known than others. Today, we turn our attention to the remaining prints, depicting fives, quoits and cricket.

Fives, a racquet sport, was played at the Tennis Court, Leicester Fields and elsewhere (there are many different variations of the game). It is believed that the name signifies that it was played with five competitors on either side.

The custom of playing fives in churchyards continued in many a country district until quite recent years, notably in Somersetshire and Staffordshire. Ball-playing in such a place no doubt prevailed because the church tower often afforded so suitable a wall for fives. It was usually practised on the north side, because there were generally no graves on that side, and the sport created less scandal. A painted line for the game still remains on some of our church towers, but a string-course of suitable elevation more usually sufficed. Fives used to be played at Eton between the buttresses on the north wall of the college chapel, and the “pepper box” peculiar to Eton fives courts had its origin in a natural angle in one of these buttresses.

Fives played at The Tennis Court, Leicester Fields by Robert Dighton, c.1784.
Fives played at The Tennis Court, Leicester Fields by Robert Dighton, c.1784. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

The players are represented as using tennis rackets and playing against only one wall of the tennis court, on which is chalked out a certain area within which the balls had to be driven. Mr Marshall has thus clearly defined the sequence of the game:–“First came fives, played with the hand against any available wall. Then came bat-fives, in which a wooden instrument, roughly imitated from the tennis racket, was employed. That was a good game; and it is still played in many places, and notably at some of our great schools, Rugby, Westminster, Cheltenham, and others. Not content with the wooden bat, players acquainted with the tennis racket seem to have adopted that instrument about 1749, or a little earlier . . . so it continued to be played until 1788, the date of the print mentioned above, which the players still called the game fives.”

With the introduction of the racket, the change in the name gradually followed. It used to be popular in the prisons of the Fleet and King’s Bench, and afterwards in the gardens of some of the great London taverns. A special form of the real game became localised at Harrow about 1822. With its later history we are not here concerned, nor with the various developments of the present game of fives, which is essentially a pastime for boys.

The next print depicts a group of men contesting a game of quoits at The Horn on Kennington Common. The game was possibly first played with horseshoes, but by the eighteenth-century a metal ring was used, which was thrown to land over on near a spike set into the ground.

The game of quoits, or coits, as an amusement, is superior to any of the foregoing pastimes; the exertion required is more moderate, because this exercise does not depend so much upon superior strength as upon superior skill. The quoit seems evidently to have derived its origin from the ancient discus, and with us in the present day it is a circular plate of iron perforated in the middle, not always of one size, but larger or smaller to suit the strength or conveniency of the several candidates. It is further to be observed, that quoits are not only made of different magnitudes to suit the poise of the players, but sometimes the marks are placed at extravagant distances, so as to require great strength to throw the quoit home; this, however, is contrary to the general rule, and depends upon the caprice of the parties engaged in the contest.

Coits played at The Horn, Kennington Common by Robert Dighton, c.1784.
Coits played at The Horn, Kennington Common by Robert Dighton, c.1784. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Because the quoits were made of iron, there are not infrequent reports in the newspapers of injuries incurred to the incautious who, for whatever reason, wandered into the field of play.

And while, like all sports, various wagers were placed on the outcome of the game, on one occasion in Chester things went a little too far.

A game of quoits was played last week by two persons, for no less a stake than the leg of the one against the arm of the other – but there was nothing very sanguinary in the case, as they were wooden ones. The contest ended in the loss of the leg.

(Chester Chronicle, 26th May 1797)

And so we come to the sixth and last print which shows a cricket match. In the eighteenth-century, cricket was the country’s most popular sport, not least because of the wagers placed upon the games. Even royalty were fans, with Frederick, Prince of Wales (the eldest son of George II) a keen player and patron. The following is the first reference to a trophy (other than cash) being contested in a game of cricket.

On Tuesday last a silver cup, given by his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, was play’d for at cricket on Moulsey Hurst near Hampton Court, by eleven men on a side; eleven were pitch’d on one side by Mr Stede of Kent, and the other eleven were pick’d out of the twenty-two that play;d at the same place about three weeks ago (and were call’d the Prince’s Men) which latter won, tho’ not with so much east as was expected, the odds being against Mr Stede’s men at the beginning.

(Derby Mercury, 23rd August 1733)

In 1745, the young women of two Surrey villages picked up their bats and faced each other in a game of cricket.

The greatest Cricket Match that ever was played in the south part of England, was on Friday the 26th of last month, on Golden Common near Guildford in Surrey, between eleven maids of Bramley, and eleven maids of Hambleton, all dressed in white, the Bramley Maids had blue ribbons, and the Hambleton Maids red ribbons on their heads, the Bramley Girls got 119 notches, and the Hambleton Girls 127; there was of both sexes the greatest number that ever was seen on such an occasion, the girls bowled, batted, ran, and catched, as well as any man could do in that game.

(Derby Mercury, 9th August 1745)

Cricket played by the Gentleman's Club, Whiteconduit House by Robert Dighton, c.1784.
Cricket played by the Gentleman’s Club, Whiteconduit House by Robert Dighton, c.1784. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

While the Gentleman’s Club at White Conduit House might have witnessed scenes similar to the one above, earlier matches played there were not quite so sporting or peaceful.

Thursday last, a cricket match was played behind White-Conduit House, between 11 Master Butchers of Newgate Market, and 11 of Clare Market, for 50l. When the Clare Market Butchers found that the Newgate ones had so few to get the last innings, they began to wrangle, when both parties came to blows, and the Newgate Men came off victorious.

(Derby Mercury 21st August 1772)

Six sporting prints by Robert Dighton, c.1784.
Six sporting prints by Robert Dighton, c.1784. The London Illustrated News, 1931.

Sources not mentioned above:

Sports and Pastimes of the People of England by Joseph Strutt [2nd ed., 1903]

Illustrated London News, 22nd August 1931

 

Foot Ball played at Market Place, Barnet by Robert Dighton, c.1784.

Foot Ball, Trap Ball and Four Corners: Sporting Prints of the 18th Century

A series of six prints by Robert Dighton, held in the Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, illustrate a selection of the sports played during the latter half of the eighteenth-century, some now better known than others.

First, we have four corners, a form of skittles.

FOUR-CORNERS – Is so called from four large pins which are placed singly at each angle of a square frame. The players stand at a distance, which may be varied by joint consent, and throw at the pins a large heavy bowl, which sometimes weighs six or eight pounds. The excellency of the game consists in beating them down by the fewest casts of the bowl.

Four Corners, played at the Swan, Chelsea by Robert Dighton, c.1784.
Four Corners, played at the Swan, Chelsea by Robert Dighton, c.1784. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

We have found conflicting sources which say that it could be played with a smaller ball that could rebound off either the surrounding wall or the pins and knock down as many as possible, or a larger, heavier one similar to a bowling ball.

The game was played in Kent, and certainly with a ball heavy enough to inflict an injury; a correspondent wrote from Chatham on July 29th to say that:

On Saturday evening as some persons were playing at four corners, near this town, unfortunately a child about three years old ran across the alley, just as a man was bowling, the bowl hit the child upon the head, and it was thought it had been killed on the spot – but being placed under the care of an eminent surgeon, we since hear, there are great hopes of its recovery.

(Kentish Gazette, 3rd August 1787)

Next, there is football, which needs little introduction. The game has been around for centuries (in England, the first documented use of the term ‘football’ dates to 1408). Despite being frequently outlawed during the seventeenth-century, the game continued in popularity; it was in this period that the first references to scoring a goal are to be found.

Foot Ball played at Market Place, Barnet by Robert Dighton, c.1784.
Foot Ball played at Market Place, Barnet by Robert Dighton, c.1784. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

And it was not just the men who played the sport.

Bath, Oct 4. Yesterday a new and extraordinary entertainment was set on foot for the diversion of our polite gentry; and what should it be but a Match at Foot-Ball, play’d by six young women of a side at the Bowling Green: cards, dice, concerts, plays, balls, &c are the common entertainments of the week; but for want of these, in publick, on Sundays, the meeting sometimes serves for an amusement.

(Ipswich Journal, 8th October 1726)

Trap ball is similar to cricket, rounders or baseball but with a mechanised bowling system and without the need for running after hitting the ball. It is described as a game played with a levered wooden trap by means of which a small ball is launched straight up into the air so as to be struck by a player with a bat. The aim is to hit the ball furthest, either in one or several turns. From Dighton’s print, it would seem that an additional object is for others to catch the ball.

TRAP-BALL, AND KNUR AND SPELL.–The game of trap-ball, or trap-bat-and-ball, which can be traced back to at least the beginning of the fourteenth century, afterwards developed into the northern game of knur and spell. The knur, or ball, used in the game, was made of various hard materials. It was sometimes carved by hand out of a hard wood, such as holly, or engine-turned out of lignum-vitæ; in the pottery districts it was commonly made of white Wedgewood material, and usually called a “pottie”; whilst in its most scientific form the knur was made out of stag-horn and weighted with lead. The spell, or trap, was of varying design, sometimes assuming the shoe form, which could commonly be obtained in toy shops in the middle of the last century and later; but ingenuity devised a spring spell, which, being set and detached by means of a toothed click, could be regulated so as to always raise the knur to the same height, thus greatly increasing the certainty of the player hitting it. The third implement required for this game is the trip-stick used for striking the ball. It differs much from the old form of short bat, and consists of two parts, the stick and the pomel. The former is made of ash or lance wood, so as to combine stiffness and elasticity, and for a two-handed player is about four feet in length. The widened end, or pomel, is made of any hard heavy wood that will not easily split. The main point of the game is the distance to which the player can strike the knur; a first-rate hand is said to have been able to send a loaded ball as far as sixteen score yards.

Trap Ball played at the Black Prince, Newington Butts by Robert Dighton, c.1784.
Trap Ball played at the Black Prince, Newington Butts by Robert Dighton, c.1784. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

An early – and somewhat gruesome – account of trap-ball relates an accident during play.

One day last week, some boys in Cold Bath Fields, being at play at Trap-Ball, the boy who was striking at the ball accidentally hit another with the stick at the corner of his eye, which instantly fell out of his head on the ground.

(Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 1st June 1752)

The game was still going strong at the end of the Georgian era, as this advert in a Sheffield newspaper attests.

SELECT TRAP BALL CLUB

A number of Gentlemen having expressed their wish to form a respectable Private Club, for the practice of some healthful game which requires less exertion than Cricket, it is respectfully announced that a select Trap Ball Club, to be called the ‘Hallamshire’ will commence playing on Thursday, June 14th.

The Game will be played according to the improved London method; and Gentleman will be supplied on the Ground with Traps, Bats, Balls, Rules, &c. free of expense.

Subscription for the Season, to be paid at its close, 10s. 6d.

After the commencement of the Club, no additional Members to be admitted but by ballot.

At half-past six, on each evening of the playing days, tea and coffee, ham, &c will be set out in the Great Room, solely for the Gentlemen of the Club, at 1s. each.

On the day of playing, the Ground will be free only to the Members of the Club; all others to pay 6d. each admission, to be allowed at the Bar of the House for Refreshment.

Names of the Gentlemen desirous of joining any of the Clubs, will be received by Mr WOODHEAD, King’s Head, Change Alley; and at the House on the Playing Ground, any afternoon after 3 o’clock.

(Sheffield Independent, 9th June 1827)

We’ll look at the other three prints in a later blog.

Six sporting prints by Robert Dighton, c.1784.
Six sporting prints by Robert Dighton, c.1784. The London Illustrated News, 1931.

Sources not quoted above:

Illustrated London News, 22nd August 1931

Sports and Pastimes of the People of England by Joseph Strutt [2nd ed., 1903]

The Boy’s Book of Sports, Games, Exercises, and Pursuits, 1869